PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- Taconic’s No. 1 starter reported a blister in the bullpen before Monday’s Western Massachusetts Division 3 Championship Game, and he had some control issues out of the gate, walking three and hitting a batter in the first three innings.
For most teams, that could spell a tragic end to a glorious season.
Taconic? It had a pitcher with a 3-0 record and microscopic earned run average waiting in the wings.
Sam Sherman threw two innings of scoreless relief of starter Anton Lazits to pick up the win as Taconic rolled over sixth-seeded Belchertown, claiming its fourth straight sectional final and a berth in Wednesday’s state semi-finals.
Evan Blake went 2-for-2 with a home run and a pair of RBIs, and Leo Arace was 2-for-2 with a double and a pair of RBIs as Taconic improved to 17-0 this spring and scored in double digits for the fifth straight game, including four tournament games.
Taconic has allowed just six runs in the tournament and 14 runs all season, posting eight shutouts along the way.
Lazits has been a big part of that defensive dominance, going 5-0 on the mound and striking out 58 in 28 innings pitched. He had seven strikeouts in three innings against the Orioles, and he was not even at his best.
“When [Lazits] came off after that first inning, he said he was having trouble gripping the ball, and, you know, being sweaty and stuff,” Taconic coach Kevin Stannard said. “I think that led to some of his wildness early. But, you know, every inning he worked out of a jam. It worked out where he stayed under the 70-pitch limit. I think he threw 59 pitches, so he’s available for Friday.”
Sherman stayed under 40 pitches, so he is available in Wednesday’s state semifinal in a Taconic arsenal that also features Matt Lee, who is 4-0 this spring, allowing just two earned runs in 26 innings of work.
“Talking to some of the other coaches we’ve played, they’re really impressed with how many arms we really do have, and we’re fortunate the kids have put in the work to develop how well they throw,” Stannard said.
After putting the first two men aboard with free passes on Monday, Lazits struck out the next two and got the third out on a fly ball to center field. He threw a 1-2-3 second with a pair of strikeouts but ran into a hiccup in the third.
Two walks to start the inning were followed by a pair of strikeouts before Tim Mitus singled to right to drive in Belchertown’s run. Lazits then recorded his seventh strikeout to strand two and end his afternoon on the mound.
Sherman allowed runners in each of his two innings but left them there, stranding two men in scoring position in the fourth with a called third strike.
Meanwhile, Taconic’s offense scored early and often.
In the first, Brenan Stannard, Arace and Sherman each singled in a four-run rally.
In the second, Arace plated two runs with a double down the line in right field -- a ball that was momentarily called a home run by one umpire but then corrected by another. Arace then came home on a no-doubt bomb over the left-center fence by Blake to make it 8-0.
Lee singled and ended up scoring on a wild pitch in the third to make it 9-1 in the third.
In the fourth, Lee drove in a pair of runs with a single to right to make it a 10-run cushion and bring the mercy rule into play.
Taconic has played a lot of five-inning games this spring. But Kevin Stannard never has doubted that his team had the ability to rise to better competition and get back to the state semi-finals.
“They had lofty goals, that’s for sure,” he said. “And 1-through-16, including the guys on the bench, we can plug anyone in, and they do the job. That’s how it’s been. Their work ethic through the winter and then, obviously, what we’ve been able to do in the spring is really fantastic. It’s a really special group.
“The Greylock game [in the Western Mass quarter-finals], when they took the 2-0 lead, kind of proved … I think it was the third inning, and Leo [Arace] said, ‘Come on, we’re not losing to Greylock.’ And it really picked us up, and we moved on from there. That’s the first time we were tested, really, and they responded just the way I thought they would.”